How Airbus Almost Put 11 Abreast Seating On The A380 Superjumbo

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The Airbus A380plus was a concept that could have seen as many as 80 seats added to the giant jumbo across all classes. The most radical change of this concept variant would have been the addition of one more seat to rows in economy. Here’s how Airbus almost made an 11-abreast A380.

Emirates A380
Passengers narrowly avoided an 11-abreast A380. Photo: Getty Images

Adding a seat to the world’s biggest passenger plane

On most widebody aircraft, nine abreast is the norm. Even Airbus’ flagship widebody, the A350, is typically arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration (although some operators have gone for ten abreast, leaving passengers with a squeezy 17” or less of seat width).

But the Airbus A380 is not your typical widebody. In every sense of the word, it’s simply bigger than anything else. Its wide cabin gave operators the chance to add another seat in economy, without sacrificing too much in terms of width. Emirates’ typically economy class on the A380 has a 3-4-3 configuration with 18 inches of seat width, a pretty standard international offering.

But did you know that Arbus once planned for an 11-abreast A380, adding one more seat to every economy row? Dubbed the A380plus, it was designed to increase capacity by 23 seats by using a 3-5-3 layout in economy. Here’s what it was all about.

A380plus
The A380plus combined larger winglets and increased passenger capacity for a lower cost per seat. Photo: Airbus

Making the A380… better?

Back in 2017, Airbus was hoping that the A380 project would persist for many more years. Despite low orders for the type, it remained confident that the giant superjumbo would yet find more customers, and was working on new variants to entice more orders for the model.

One such variant was the A380plus, a sub-type that would improve the performance of the A380 to let it fly further, on less fuel, and with more people onboard than ever before. Alongside new winglets for efficiency, the manufacturer wanted to put an extra seat in the economy rows, reducing cost per seat by an estimated 13%.

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A380plus
Up to 80 more seats could be installed. Photo: Airbus

At the time, John Leahy, COO Customers at Airbus, explained the concept, saying,

The A380plus is an efficient way to offer even better economics and improved operational performance at the same time. It is a new step for our iconic aircraft to best serve worldwide fast-growing traffic and the evolving needs of the A380 customers. The A380 is well-proven as the solution to increasing congestion at large airports, and in offering a unique, passenger-preferred experience.”

Aside from the new 4.7 meter tall winglets, the concept would take the A380s average passenger capacity from the current 497 to 575 in four classes. But how would this be achieved?

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Cabin enablers

First shown off at Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in April 2017, ‘cabin enablers’ were a set of modifications designed to add passenger capacity to the huge frame of the A380. These included:

  • New forward stairs: Relocating the forward stairs from door one to door two and combining the entrance to the upper deck with the entrance to the crew rest area below deck would, according to Airbus, add 20 more passengers.
A380 11 abreast
‘Cabin enablers’ would help create more space. Photo: Airbus
  • Combined crew rest compartment: The A380 usually has a flight crew rest area behind the cockpit, but Airbus floated the idea of moving this down and combining it with the main crew rest area on the lower deck. This, it said, would make room for three more premium economy passengers.
  • Aft gallery stair module: The rear stairs, currently a spiral configuration, would be replaced by a straight stairway. This would improve the availability of storage in the galley, adding space for two more food trolleys and 14 more passengers.
  • Removal of upper deck sidewall storage: Removing the sidewall stowage on the upper deck would add width to the cabin. Airbus said that, in a herringbone arrangement, this could add space for up to 10 more passengers in business class.
  • Increasing premium economy to nine abreast: Typical premium economy on the A380 is eight abreast, but Airbus said that, using new seat technology, this could be increased to nine abreast. This would add 11 more passengers in the premium economy cabin.

However, the most dramatic of modifications would be made in the economy cabin, where passengers would be greeted with an unprecedented 11-abreast layout.

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Fitting 11 seats across an A380

In order to accommodate the extra seat in each row in economy, Airbus proposed making the cabin 3-5-3. The planemaker claimed that it had worked with seat manufacturers to develop new products that would allow aircraft to retain their 18 inches of seat width, while still allowing the additional seat.

A380 11 abreast
Would you fly an 11-abreast A380? Photo: Airbus

Part of the strategy was to narrow the aisle to 17 inches. The armrests, too, would be reduced to just 2cm, giving a new and unwelcome dimension to the fight over elbow space. As aviation consultancy Simpliflying points out, the passengers seated at the window would be squashed so much, they would be unlikely to be able to straighten their legs.

Airbus thought that the addition of 23 passengers in the economy cabin, and the additional revenue they bring, would be enough to mitigate the impact of these downsides. However, no airline bit, with even long-term A380 fan Emirates stating it was not interested in the extra seat. Tim Clark stated to FlightGlobal that the additional baggage brought by so many more passengers would make the A380plus untenable.

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While the A380plus might have made sense on paper, for airlines, it was just a step too far. For passengers traveling long distances on the A380, it seems we’ve narrowly avoided a cruel and unusual punishment.

Would you fly an 11-abreast A380, had it been made? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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